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Houston's transition to the 4-3-3 seems to be negatively impacting their two most offensive players - Brad Davis and Will Bruin. Here's why the Dynamo need to scrap the new formation and go back to their roots, the 4-4-2.
Prior to the start of the Philadelphia game, I was thinking about Giles Barnes' performance against C.D. FAS in the CONCACAF Champions League and his interview with Glenn Davis last week. He mentioned to Glenn his preferred station on the pitch is central attacking midfielder. Since Houston fielded a 4-4-2 that night, we got to see how Barnes can impact that role. While he's obviously working on match fitness, and integrating with his new teammates, overall Barnes showed signs of being a true CAM.
At times throughout the 3-1 loss to Philadelphia, I just couldn't see the offensive flare we witnessed during the season best eight game unbeaten streak (that seems long forgotten). I realized, I haven't seen that fire in a long time and it got me thinking about statistics - something I love to dig up.
Here's the issues at hand. Let's start with Will Bruin.
Bruin doesn't fit the 4-3-3 style. It's clear based on his performance over the course of the year. I can't understand why our most important offensive weapon is worked into a system that doesn't exploit his strong points. Let's put it into perspective.
The second year striker was on pace to shatter Brian Ching's season record for goals scored - which is 13 back in 2008. Back on June 25th, I wrote a feature on how Will Bruin is changing Dynamo history. That was five days prior to our last game against the Philadelphia Union where we debuted our new designated player Boniek Garcia and our newly adopted 4-3-3 formation.
At that time, Bruin's goals stood at 9 on the season, including four goals in the previous three games. Since the conversion to the 4-3-3, Bruin has only scored two goals - that's right two.
Don't get me wrong, it's not as if Bruin is not working hard out there (evidenced by an additional three assists since the switch). The guy gives it his all each and every game and is heavily involved in the Dynamo offense. My argument is if he is a classic 4-4-2 forward, why aren't we playing to his strengths?
I think we could make a strong argument it's time to go back home. Dominic Kinnear's style seemed to be predictable by using the same formation and playing the same way game after game. This level of predictability has proven successful for Kinnear and Houston for nearly every year of existence. No one can argue he has made a living at being one of the best coaches MLS has ever seen. There was a good write-up on NBC Sports Pro Soccer Talk and Steve Davis described Kinnear's demand for the little things a player brings to the field perfectly.
That's it. It's all the little things. Getting into the right places. Making the correct decisions. Tracking back faithfully. Marking on set pieces. Fighting for second balls with Jack Bauer intensity. Being a good locker room presence.
Every manager wants these things; Kinnear demands it. And for those who can't quite make the grade in any one area, Kinnear thanks them and moves them along.
Aside from Bruin, Houston's defense overall is in a rut. Macoumba Kandji and Calen Carr are just not able to carry the offensive load Bruin's lack of scoring calls for. While both have had great performances and fit well on the wings, they just aren't on the level Bruin is. While Brad Davis had a terrific July, he has managed only one assist since early August. Bruin and Davis are Houston's two most crucial offensive weapons - and they're being set up to fail in a formation that doesn't fit their personalities.
On August 3rd, Houston played like Eastern Conference leaders when they overtook the New York Red Bulls 2-0 at BBVA Compass Stadium. Since taking over the lead in the East and subtracting CCL play, Houston has only had one multi-goal game. Other than a late 2-2 draw with Columbus, the Dynamo have either been shut out or only able to get one goal on the score sheet.
Take a look at our feature about Houston playing down to their opponents. Zach's closing comments are a cause for concern.
The rest of the season looks like this: Revs, Impact, Union, at Rapids. Four non-playoff teams who have all either beaten and/or drawn against the Dynamo this year. Three of the four games are at home, a huge advantage since this team plays better at home, but four of those bad draws came at home.
Whether it's playing down to opponents or a simple formation change, it's evident we have some issues to sort out before Saturday. Maybe it's time to roll the dice and see if Giles Barnes can impact our team when it counts. Brad Davis back to his rightful spot on the left, while Boniek Garcia mans the right side could prove to be a deadly combination of service into the box from both sides. One thing is for sure, I hope Will Bruin is utilized in the role he's proven he's made for - a goal scorer. I don't see any other way to get him back to where he was in June than a formation switch back to our trustworthy, time tested 4-4-2.